smart spending

Frugal gift-wrapping secrets from holiday pros

Ever notice that it seems to cost nearly as much to wrap a holiday gift as it does to buy it?

A roll of nice wrapping -- not the cheap kind that rips with every fold -- can easily go for $5 or more for 9 feet of paper and only covers about six shirt boxes, based on online calculations. Add a nice metallic bow and a gift tag, and the bill can soon top $10. And let's not forget the paper will be torn into bits and thrown away, sometimes along with the bow.

Of course, you could go with the free gift wrap offered by the store. You know -- the kind that screams, "I didn't wrap this myself! The nice gal at Macy's did," and looks like every third gift under the Christmas tree.

But if you don't want to settle for store-wrapped gifts, there are other inexpensive and stylish ways to dress up your packages this holiday season -- and all year-round.

Wrap it up

Start your hunt for gift wrap in your own home and repurpose what you already have, says Danielle Claro, editor-at-large at Real Simple magazine.

Claro and her children have been known to tear out magazine and catalog pages that are thematically similar and tape or paste them together for a collage gift wrap. That works especially well during the holidays when mailboxes are bombarded with Christmas catalogs.

"It's free and green," Claro says.

Don't forget the tried-and-true newspaper for wrapping, Claro says. But take it up a design notch and contrast the gray newspaper with a big, wide red ribbon. Or, pick up a foreign-language newspaper with interesting characters, such as Chinese or Arabic, for a "more artful feel," Claro says.

Erin Souder, founder of decorating blog HouseofEarnest.com, cuts open colorful shopping bags for wrapping. She has also washed out potato chip bags and wrapped with the silver lining for a festive look.

If you can spare some cash, consider stocking up on white craft or butcher paper, or brown shipping or parchment paper. These all make excellent bases for wrapping and can be bought on the cheap.

Cover the paper with your drawings or your children's to make a gift personal, says Heather Mann, founder of the blog DollarStoreCrafts.com. Try paint and ink as well. Take car toys and dip the wheels in paint, then run them over the paper, use potato halves as stamps, or make handprints and footprints, Mann says.

For a more sophisticated finish, use a sponge to dab on metallic silver or gold paint. Or cut out white paper snowflakes -- an old kindergarten project -- sprinkle them with glitter and paste them to the brown paper. If you'd rather keep the paper plain, focus instead on toppers and tags.

"You can be really playful with the package embellishments to make one-of-a-kind wraps," says Kelly Ryan Kegans, senior deputy editor of home designs for Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

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